September is “Oscars” month for the Scottish food and drink industry when the great and the good from across the country gather for the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards, hoping to a much-lauded trophy home.

Recognising local sourcing, sustainability, young talent, and primary producers along with innovation across all sectors of the industry, the Excellence Awards is an event that has been running for more than two decades with winners – past and present – point to the Scottish Food & Drink Excellence Awards as the country’s most prestigious.

The Scottish Farmer: Collecting their award last year for Scotch Brand Product of the Year Collecting their award last year for Scotch Brand Product of the Year

The food and drink sector has grown to become Scotland’s biggest employer with the industry now worth nearly £15 billion. There’s been a 200% increase in food exports in the last 10 years – in 2022, exports of Scottish food and drink were valued at over £8bn – and a 40% rise in sales of Scottish brands in the UK.

For Dan Gilmour, joint managing director of third-generation family business John Gilmour Butchers in East Lothian, winning Scotch Brand Product of the Year for the firm’s Tweed Valley 35-day dry-aged Cote de Boeuf was a “special moment”. He said: “For Scotland to have so many diverse businesses together in the one room is amazing and shows you just how strong our food and drink industry is.

“To win something like this gives all our staff a boost and being at the event itself was a chance for us to get together and blow off steam – and meet some amazing people who run fantastic businesses.

“I was also fascinated to hear from companies who have done so well and launched new products in a relatively short time – people are so innovative and when you combine that with their business acumen there really are no limits to what can be achieved in Scotland’s food and drink industry.”

The largest supplier of Scotch beef and lamb in the UK, John Gilmour Butchers impressed the judges with its Tweed Valley 35-day dry-aged Cote de Boeuf which it supplies to prestigious restaurants such as Gleneagles.

That shrewd business acumen is very much in evidence at John Gilmour Butchers as the company prepares to open a new £10 million butchery and retail facility in Wallyford which will become the UK’s largest dry-ageing station.

Its new facility will also feature a retail shop and deli, with three Himalayan salt dry-aging chambers capable of maturing more than 6,000 pieces of bone-in sirloin and ribeye. The expansion will see John Gilmour Butchers take on 40 new staff members, including new butchers and mechanical technicians.

John Gilmour Butchers is also keen to work with artisan food and drink producers in East Lothian by offering them space to sell their produce in the new deli.

In addition, the company will set up a new apprenticeship scheme to encourage young butchers to join the industry.

The Scottish Farmer: The Gilmour family The Gilmour family

The business was founded in 1946 by brothers William and John and has grown from a small high street store into an online business, with growing trade in London. Since the last and final lockdown, the business has doubled its turnover and continues to seek new markets with an emphasis on quality.

“People are eating less beef but they when they do eat it, they are eating better quality beef,” said Dan. “As a catering business, we pride ourselves on servicing our clients and striving for the best quality possible – put those two things together and you have a winning formula.

“We’re seeing a huge appetite for Scotch Beef, Scotch Lamb, Specially Selected Pork, and also Ardgay Game, a family business in the Highlands we partner with. There’s a growing market for wild venison in London.”

For John Gilmour Butchers, it’s also about rearing the type of cattle that produce the meat that customers want. “Native-bred cattle are in demand just now,” points out Dan who runs the business with his brother Simon as joint MD, and sister Rebecca who heads up food safety – all under the watchful eye of mum Teena who is the majority owner.